Before Midnight

June 23, 2013 1 Comment


On Sunday, June 23 The Reel Deal hosted a screening and discussion of Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” at the Royal Oak Main Theatre.  The film is the third installment of his walking and talking love trilogy, which began with “Before Sunrise” (1995)   picked up again nine years later with “Before Sunset” (2004) and now culminates with “Before Midnight.”  Linklater invites us into the emotional lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julia Delpy), who we first met as idealistic, solipsistic twenty-somethings  traveling on a train to Vienna.  Captivated by each other (or at least romanticized fantasies of each other), they  stroll  together sharing philosophies, dreams, kisses and witty repartee (which can at times be biting).  At the end of the film, Celine boards the train back to Paris and Jessie prepares to fly back to the States, but they vow to meet again in Vienna six months later.

The film was a popular art house favorite which gained near-cult status, capturing the sweet essence of young romance, tinged with hints of painful memories and future foreboding.  We are disappointed, but  really not surprised to discover (nine years later) in ‘Before Sunrise” that the promised reunion never happened.  That film, set in Paris, invites us to share in the reunion of our two somewhat older lovers, who seem to have “moved on” but who clearly retain feelings and fantasies about their future together.  The ending once again leaves us wondering:  will Jessie miss his flight to stay with Celine?

We wait another nine years to discover the answer.  Before Midnight provides us access to the inner workings of a more seasoned relationship, as Jessie and Celine, now a forty-ish couple living in Paris (yes, he did miss his flight), struggle with the challenges of parenthood  and accumulating disappointments about each other.  Set in the magnificent Greek countryside, Linklater’s film feels more mature, expanding the cast beyond the duo-format of the first two films, reminding us of the impossibility of maintaining a world that only contains two star-crossed lovers.  Linklater  poignantly uses a scene around the dinner table where couples of various ages share insight and feelings about the nature of love and relationships.  The tension between Jessie and Celine grows during the meal and explodes during their evening together.  We are reminded that couples can attack each other with painful precision, inflicting wounds that may not heal.  We are left at the end of the film,  sad but wiser, wondering once again about the future of our couple and perhaps of relationships.  Not nihilistic, but wistful.  Linklater’s use of language  is undoubtedly his most compelling “special effect,” creating our emotional attachment  with his characters which has literally lasted decades.  What a gift.

********SPOILER ALERT**********
You may not want to read further if you haven’t yet seen the film!!!

The discussion that followed the film was as rich as the film itself.  Most in the audience had seen all three films, and their familiarity with the central themes and basic conflicts that span all three made it easy to weave back and forth. There was a reminder that Before Sunrise begins with a middle aged couple on the train arguing bitterly.  Foreshadowing or inevitability?  Who was at fault in this relationship?   There were those who clearly sided with Jessie, citing the injustices served up by Celine (i.e., her failure to acknowledge his pain about the distance between him and his young son with her refusal to move to Chicago).  Still, others were annoyed by his defensive joking and refusal to recognize her sacrifices.  Who was “setting up ” who, creating the numerous spats and arguments? There was much discussion about Celine’s question to Jessie asking if he would ask her to leave the train with him if he met her now.  Was this a ploy to create more unhappiness and distance or a mere request for reassurance and loveability?  Most agreed that the addition of the new characters provided meaning and emotional impact that enriched the story.  What was the purpose of mentioning the death of Jessie’s grandmother (recall that Celine’s grandmother had died in Before Sunset, preventing her from meeting Jessie at the six month reunion)?   We were reminded by one participant that Celine describes a fear of death (with constant thinking about it) in Before Sunrise, which makes it difficult for her to fly.  Given the importance of grandmother’s  (Jessie tells Celine about a “vision” of his dead grandmother as a little boy, which is one of the stories that makes her fall in love with him), why does Celine balk at attending the funeral?  The question of guilt in the role of mourning was raised.  Is guilt inevitable?

What is going to happen to our couple?  Change or more of the same?  What permits Celine’s re-engagement with Jessie?  Paris or Chicago?  Separate or together?   And the most interesting question:  Will there be another film in nine more years?

Jolyn Wagner

Must See Movie of the Week, Reel Deal Goes to the Movies
One Comment to “Before Midnight”
  1. Bruce Russell says:

    Probably this entire note deserves a SPOILER ALERT for those who have not seen the film. I am going to pose some questions and then provide my answers, questions that I think are central to understanding the film and the characters in it.

    1. What drives the film? I think it is Jesse’s desire to move back to Chicago with Celine and their girls to be closer to Hank, his son from a previous marriage. This intense desire is the result of both his love for his son and his sense of guilt for not being close to Hank when he was younger.

    2. What is Celine’s main complaint? I think it is that Jesse does not acknowledge the sacrifices she has made for him and their family and the additional ones she would have to make if they moved to Chicago. (Thanks to Diane Geiger Tenhoopen for emphasizing this point with me in correspondence.)

    3. What causes the fight between Jesse and Celine at the end of the film? I think it is Celine’s main complaint plus her insecurity over Jesse’s love for her. Earlier in the film she accuses him of ogling women and wanting to have sex with blonde bimbos. During the fight, she accuses him of having sex with a woman named Emily. Jesse never denies that he did, and not even the “bimbo” charge. So some of her insecurity may stem from those sources.

    4. In what way is Jesse not wholly sincere? I think in his proposal that they “just talk about the possibility of moving to Chicago, just have a rational discussion about that possibility.” If he was sincere about this, why did he not end the fight when Celine proposed that they let things ride for two months and then she would reconsider?

    5. In what way is Celine not wholly sincere? I think when she characterizes the job she is considering taking as her “dream job.” In the earlier discussion in the car, Jesse points out that she would be working for the government and that she does not really like the boss she would have. At that point she says that she is merely considering taking the job, has not yet made up her mind. That is not the response we’d expect of someone who is offered her “dream job.”

    6. Who saves the day? I think it’s Jesse. He does love Celine immensely and leaves the hotel room to try to get her back after she walked out for the final time. He tells her a cute story involving time travel (he told another time travel story in Before Sunrise to get her to get off the train and spend the day with him in Vienna), but that doesn’t work. She tells him to stop playing games. He does, and tells her how much he loves her. She then responds, playing the role of the blonde bimbo. I think the ending is upbeat and optimistic.

    7. Is there a deep rift between Jesse and Celine? I don’t think so. Her main complaint involves the lack of acknowledgment of what she has given to the relationship and their family, and she is insecure about her relationship to Jesse. Jesse seems open to sharing more of the load, and he clearly loves Celine deeply. There is no reason why they can’t overcome the obstacles that are causing the unhappiness that besets their relationship.

    8. What is the point of having various couples from different generations at the dinner (or lunch) table? They have very different ideas of how romantic love can manifest itself and very different expectations about its probable duration and closeness. The beautiful young woman has no expectation that it will last a lifetime. The older woman has had a romantic relationship that did last a lifetime. Patrick, the elderly writer, is in a relationship with his wife that is very free and open and allows both of them lots of independence. Sexuality seems to play an important, though not fully satisfying role, in the life of the bicycle maker and his wife. And then there is Jesse and Celine whose romantic relationship is not fully worked out. Can romantic relationships take only one form? Of course not! Is there only one ideal form they can take? Probably not.

    9. What is the message of the older friend of Patrick, the person who speaks last at the meal? She says that life is transitory and that what is most important in it are our particular relations to our friends and loved ones. She thinks that romantic love is based on particulars about the beloved, as Celine says in one of the earlier films (she remarks on how she likes the redness in the part of Jesse’s beard on his chin). But she fears that she is losing the ability to recall the particulars of her deceased husband. From one perspective, our lives are just specks in the universe and their durations but a blink of the eye. How can they matter? But they do to us, and what makes them matter, or not, is who we love, and who loves us back…or doesn’t.

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